Taxes Drove Jesse James’ Ancestors to Revolution

The Stamp Act of King George III
The Stamp Act of King George III

The Stamp Act passed by the parliament of King George III instructed the grandfather of Frank and Jesse James in the power to disobey.

John M. James was informed by his uncle Henry Field, a son of Henry Field Sr. and Esther James. Putting his life and the lives of his family on the line, John’s Uncle Henry was a judge on the Culpeper Court who had resigned his judgeship to oppose the king.

As This Bloody Ground, Volume II of Jesse James Soul Liberty, points out,

Parliament recently had imposed a cider tax, plus a sugar tax. Now, a stamp tax was to be paid. The revenue stamp was to affix to most every paper item generated throughout the Colony, including documents issued by the Culpeper Court in its jurisdiction over churches and preachers. The stamp equally applied to countless other documents and papers as well, such as a gazette, a bill of sale, a land transfer, or even a will. Payment to the Crown was required in sterling, scarcely found in the colony where barter was the principal currency. Feeding upon every official and non-official act of the colonists, the stamp tax amounted to economic enslavement.

Sterling coin, the only way to pay King George's taxes
Sterling coin, the only way to pay King George’s taxes

How egregious were these taxes to cause the James family to turn to revolution?

A recent article titled “What 11 Common Objects Would Cost in 2015 if Colonial Taxation Still Existed” outlines the financial burden in the dollar values of 2015.

Everything in print bore a tax. A magazine tax would add $294.56. A printed diploma would bear a tax of $234.84; a deck of cards, $5.87 in taxes. A printed calendar bore $1.96 additional tax.

Previously levied taxes already were proving burdensome. A pound of tea bore $1.46 in tax. Foreign coffee was expensive, costing $350.86 in tax. Foreign sugar carried a tax burden of $129.16.

no tax revolt

The  preferred beverage to water was wine. But wine was getting very expensive, too.  A ton of wine imported from Spain or Portugal bore a tax of $58.72. Wine imported from Madeira, the favorite of Thomas Jefferson, carried a tax of $821.94, fifteen times more than European wine. The paper on which a license to sell wine was printed, added $469.68 in tax to the license cost.

Indeed, these tax excesses amounted to economic enslavement. Absent relief, revolution became the only recourse. The lessons of economic oppression have remained with the James family since.

Receipt for Taxes Paid
Receipt for Taxes Paid